John Burgoyne, poet, playwright and British general, submits an ill-fated plan to the British government to isolate New England from the other colonies on this day in 1777.
Burgoyne’s plan revolved around an invasion of 8,000 British troops from Canada, who would move southward through New York by way of Lake Champlain and the Mohawk River, taking the Americans by surprise. General Burgoyne believed he and his troops could then take control of the Hudson River and isolate New England from the other colonies, freeing British General William Howe to attack Philadelphia.
General Burgoyne’s plan went into effect during the summer of 1777 and was initially a success—the British captured Fort Ticonderoga on June 2, 1777. However, the early success failed to lead to victory, as Burgoyne overextended his supply chain, which stretched in a long, narrow strip from the northern tip of Lake Champlain south to the northern curve of the Hudson River at Fort Edward, New York. As Burgoyne’s army marched south, Patriot militia circled north, cutting the British supply line.
Burgoyne then suffered defeat in Bennington, Vermont, and bloody draws at Bemis Heights, New York. On October 17, 1777, a frustrated Burgoyne retreated 10 miles and surrendered his remaining 6,000 British forces to the Patriots at Saratoga. Upon hearing of the Patriot victory, France agreed to recognize the independence of the United States. It was, of course, France’s eventual support that enabled the Patriots’ ultimate victory.
The defeat at Saratoga led to General Burgoyne’s downfall. He returned to England, where he faced severe criticism and soon retired from active service.